Mark has a collection of thoughts on the PS4 Pro, Xbox One Scorpio, and 4K gaming in general.
A couple of years ago I was employed by a rather big company to work in their merchandising section at head office. The role focused on working with the head honchos of technology to extrapolate specs and information for their televisions, laptops, tablets, etc. and turn it all into something the average consumer could read on an A5 leaflet. It was an interesting experience and showcased that a) half of them were useless at responding to emails, and b) the other half were absolutely mental about how much spacing should exist between a full stop and the preceding word.
One of the tasks I was also given during my time there was to create leaflets, footers, pamphlets, and more about 4K. It was during this time that I realised trying to explain the concept of 4K and how it works is quite difficult, especially to those that are not particularly bothered about technology – which is a lot of people.
I immediately thought of my grandparents, sitting away there watching Eastenders on their brand-spanking 50” television, soaking in the splendour of the HD revolution, not noticing that BBC One HD was over on channel 108. Multiple times I would go over for an evening, banging my head against the wall, as I had to explain they weren’t watching what they had paid for – and I’d bet the fucking house half the people reading this have had similar experiences.
It was the same thing when it came to DVDs and Blu-Rays. Now my Nan is a complex woman, who would rather save a few quid and buy a DVD over a Blu-Ray, yet had her kitchen re-decorated three times in a five-year span, but the point remains that there are those who will pick an inferior product if it is cheaper.
Enter the PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio.
Currently, Sony and Microsoft are having a dick-waving competition not seen since the days of the bit wars where Atari would ask you to “do the math” and Sega added so many attachments to the Mega Drive/Genesis, you’d think Akira had taken control of it and it was growing multiple defects from all limbs. The PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio feel a lot like Sega’s botched attempt to expand the life of its 16-bit beast, in that they are devices not a lot of people were asking for. Unveiled in 1994, the 32X was Sega’s response to the Atari’s Jaguar (remember, “do the math”), an attachment you could slot into the toploader of your Mega Drive to play – you guessed it – 32-bit games. There was a slight problem though: they had already announced the Sega Saturn (due in 1994 but delayed till 1995) and consumers had no interest in purchasing a device that had about a years shelf life at max.
Fast-forward to 2016 and we have Sony and Microsoft pulling a Sega 32X. Ok, yes, there are some significant differences, but they are iterations of their current consoles. What has me curious is the reaction from the wider consumer base – especially when it comes to understanding what 4K is, and how no one seems to know how to explain it to the average consumer – and I include myself in this, even with the prior job of attempting to do that very thing.
The astounding thing about this entire situation is the duel announcement of slimmed down versions of the current consoles as well. It leaves me a little perplexed to whom the 4K consoles are aimed towards. Those who have fervor towards 4K gaming – and VR for that matter – most likely have a high-end PC already, and the mothers going out at Christmas to buy a new console for their kids would likely see the prices of both consoles and go for the cheaper option – or so you would think. Sony have said that pre-order sales for the PS4 Pro are “looking pretty good”, though without actual numbers, it’s hard to know what that actually means. The key thing for Sony is if they can convince consumers to purchase a PS4 Pro and 4K television at the same time, and I’m just not sure if that is going to happen. The mass market invasion of HD televisions into the home started about ten years ago, as prices dropped and stations began to broadcast in HD, and the average lifespan of a HD television is 20 years or so. 4K televisions have begun to drop in price, but the big kicker is still the lack of content. Netflix has content in 4K, but you need a strong enough Internet connection, and on top of that, the PS4 Pro does not support 4K Blu-Rays (not that there is any). Given all of that, the market still feels way too niche at the moment.
The fucking hilarious thing is Andrew House himself saying only a handful of games with will run natively at 4K, with the rest rendering in an upscaled format.
Now both Sony and Microsoft have gone out of their way to explain that a game played on the normal console or the 4K counterparts will only differ in resolution and improved performance rates. Which is good, as they need to tread carefully with their wording when it comes to this stuff. But still, are there any games that have, at worst been broken due to due to poor frame rate issues? Firewatch was a bit of a mess, and Telltale desperately need to update their engine, but most of the horror stories seem to be botched ports to PC or vise versa. I’m just intrigued to see how games in a year or two that have been developed with the Pro or Scorpio in mind fare on the original consoles.
Now do I think this is all a gimmick that is going to die a horrible death? It is too early to say. On one hand, the general concept of 4K will slowly be introduced into the homes of more people throughout the next five years, I have no doubt about that. The television you purchase in the next ten or twenty years will most likely be 4K, or at a stretch an OLED set (remember when 3D televisions were the next big thing? Bahahahaha), but this doesn’t match up with the timelines of these consoles.
It feels as if one hand has forced the other, and both companies are stumbling over each other to *ahem* wave the bigger dick. Microsoft have been forced to announce a more powerful machine because of a botched announcement of the Xbox One that has seen them playing catch up since, instead of playing the slow burn of getting back into the good graces of consumers, either by backtracking on horribly miscalculated statements (I need a games console, not an all-in-one entertainment unit), or the backwards compatibility that trounces all over the PS4. Instead, they have done what Americans tend to do, and turned their console into a monster truck. And to be fair, I don’t blame them, because if you didn’t have an Xbox One before, well hey, they’ve just supercharged the fucking thing, and that’s a pretty good selling point.
The PS4 has sold over 40 million units, with the Xbox One estimated to have sold around half as many. The PS4 slim is a great idea and is at an excellent price point. For those who bought a PS4 at launch, this is a brilliant upgrade. The same can be said for the Xbox One S, and if I were a few years younger and less stingy with my money, I would have already pre-ordered one. I expect both of those consoles to do gangbusters at Christmas. How much will they chip into potential sales for their 4K counterparts? It’s hard to tell currently, but it does match up with experts and both companies saying that this is potentially the end of what we call the “console generations”. Where the average lifespan of a console is anywhere between four to seven years, it seems as if both companies plan to ride out these consoles well into the middle of the next decade, or if some idiot decides to make the push towards 8K technology. Which… I don’t even want to think about.